BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Lawmakers gave Louisiana's state police a 20 percent pay raise Friday, siding with troopers who packed the state capitol and disregarding concerns about the state's deep financial problems.
The salary hike is estimated to cost $24 million a year and $10 million for the remaining months of the current budget year that ends June 30.
Before approving the raise, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget scaled it back from an original proposal that had troopers getting an average 36 percent bump in salary.
The House vote was 24-5, and the Senate vote was 13-3. The committee's chairmen — Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, and Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, both opposed the raise, expressing concern the state couldn't afford the increase.
Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said the money was needed to keep trooper pay competitive with other law enforcement salaries. He said the pay grid for troopers — which gives the officers graduated pay increases over 22 years — hasn't been adjusted since 2002.
"To sit here and look for a good time, there's simply not a good time. But I can promise you this with all my heart, it's the right time. It's the right time to take care of the men and women that we have asked to do so many different things," Edmonson said.
Opponents questioned if the financing source earmarked for the raise would be sufficient to cover the costs in later years. They also said it was inappropriate to give raises when struggling to balance the budget, which has a $1.4 billion hole next year, threatening higher education and health care services.
But even critics repeatedly praised the state troopers.
"I do think y'all deserve it. I hope at some point you get it. I'm not sure that this is the right time," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, who voted against the pay boost.
Raise supporters pointed to a study circulated by Edmonson that showed 10 other law enforcement agencies in Louisiana offer higher starting salaries than the state police. It also showed only seven states offer a lower salary for troopers who have completed their first year.
Lawmakers described heavy lobbying efforts from troopers, their family members and Gov. Bobby Jindal's office for the pay hike — and several objected to the pressure tactics.
"I don't like the tone of some of the messages I got. I don't like that a wife called yelling at my legislative assistant," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who voted for the raise.
Current starting salary for a trooper is $35,609. Before the pay hike, salaries on the pay grid topped out from $59,229 to $97,760 depending on the rank an officer achieves. Those salaries will be bumped up by 20 percent on average with Friday's approval.
Dollars for the trooper pay raise will come from a fee hike on uninsured motorists that lawmakers passed on the final day of the last legislative session. The penalties and fines have fallen short of estimates, however. Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter advised lawmakers that he felt comfortable the fees could cover the cost of a 20 percent pay raise.
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Posted on Tue, January 20, 2015
by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press